Political trust has never returned to Great Society-era levels. Conventional wisdom suggests that chronically poor performance explains why. Over the last 25 years, however, performance has often been at least very good. We show that one key to understanding the persistence of lower levels of political trust is that Americans have become more apt to use less favorable criteria when asked to evaluate government. When more people identify international problems as most important, trust increases. Hence the steep decline in concern about international issues after the 1960s has set a lower baseline than before. In addition, we show that the effect of economic performance on political trust is asymmetric. Since fewer people think the economy is important during good times than bad, even the often strong economies of the past 30 years increased trust less than the poor economies diminished it. Taken together, our results imply that a return to 1960s-era trust levels is unlikely.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science